5. MicahRelated Media
Notes on the Book of Micah
Four prophets ministered somewhat contemporaneously:
Hosea—— Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah
Isaiah—— Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah
Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah
I. Historical Background.
Both Hosea and Amos mention Jeroboam II as the king of Israel under whom they ministered. Micah talks about Samaria, but does not list a northern king in his opening statements. He does mention “decrees of Omri” and “works of the dynasty of Ahab” (6:16). This would indicate along with other things (such as references to Assyria) that part of his ministry was prior to the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.
II. The Man, Micah.
Not much is known about Micah. His name is the shortened form of the older Micayahu (מִכָיָהוּ) “Who is like Yahweh?” He was from Moresheth which may be the same town as Moresheth‑gath in 1:14. This would be a rural town not far from Jerusalem. Isaiah was apparently a more urbane prophet, personally acquainted with kings and leaders. Micah, like Amos, may not have been part of the official prophets’ guild. His trips to Jerusalem as a “country” prophet no doubt confirmed what he had heard from a distance. He shared with Isaiah, however, an unswerving commitment to the covenant of Yahweh and an abhorrence of the sin so prevalent in his day.
III. The Message.
Micah decries the abuses of the rich carried out against the poor as does Isaiah (5:8‑12 “Woe”) and Amos (2:6‑8). Isaiah (1:10‑15), Hosea (6:6), Amos (5:21‑24) and Micah (6:6‑8) all decry the emptiness of sacrifice without obedience. Micah also shares with Isaiah one of the most beautiful passages in the Old Testament referring to the messianic kingdom (Isaiah 2:1‑4, Micah 4:1‑5). Micah adds the verses about dwelling under vine and fig tree and walking in the name of the Lord.
IV. The Structure of the Book.
The following chart shows the structure of the messages of Micah:
V. The Milieu
The historical background has been discussed in connection with the previous prophets. Suffice it to say here that Assyria is looming yet large so that some of the prophecies are prior to 722 B.C. The list of towns in chapter one may refer to Sennacherib’s invasion in 701 B.C. Babylon is on the horizon and the Babylonian captivity is referred to (4:10‑11). The latter, as in the case of Isaiah, would be prophetic, but the Babylonians were on the scene in the days of Hezekiah as we learn from Isaiah 38‑39.1
VI. Outline of the Book.
A. Two indictments are brought against the people, two laments by Micah and a slight ray of hope (Hear!) (1:1—2:13).
1. God’s case against Israel and the sentence pronounced by the judge (1:1‑7).
The time frame is the eighth century as discussed above. The message is directed toward both Samaria, the capital of the north, and Jerusalem, the capital of the south (1:1).
God begins with a description of his judgment of the whole world and then, like Amos, moves to Israel.2 He calls the witness to hear his case against Israel (cf. Isaiah 1 for the Riv argument). In dramatic terms, He speaks of coming down to the earth to set things right. “High places of the earth” (bamoth בָּמוֹת) in this context should refer to hills or mountains. Since it is also used (usually) of pagan cult centers, there may be a play on the word since it seems to be used in the sense of idolatry in 1:5‑7.3 (1:2‑4).
The reason for this is given as the rebellion of Jacob/Israel (pesha‘ a word used when a subordinate king throws off the yoke of his master). Samaria was the symbol of the rebellion in the north and Jerusalem was looked upon as the high place in the south. God will judge Samaria and smash her idols. “Harlot’s earnings” refers to the fact that she served Baal as part of her agriculture cycle. Her wealth was then poured into idolatry (cf. with Hosea 9:1). Samaria received the brunt of the judgment at this time because her turn was coming first (722 B.C.). Jerusalem managed to survive by the grace of God for almost another one hundred years (1:5‑7).
2. Micah laments over the suffering that will take place and mentions ten cities in Judah (1:8‑16).
Micah laments as he walks about barefoot and naked (cf. Isaiah 20:2 where Isaiah prophesied judgment with the same dramatic action). The reason for the lament is that the sin of Israel has reached and influenced Judah so that she also will be judged (1:8‑9).
The coming judgment on Judah is so severe her enemies will rejoice over her. Therefore, the admonition is not to let the Philistine city of Gath know about the judgment (the phrase comes from David’s prayer in 2 Sam. 1:20 in connection with the death of Saul).
Micah then lists ten cities that are warned of coming suffering. Micah apparently makes a word play on the names of the towns located in the Shephelah region around Jerusalem.4
Beth‑le‑aphrah (Dust City) “roll yourself in the dust.”
Shaphir (Bellvue, or Buenavista, “Pretty City”) “you will go away in nakedness.”
Zaanan (צַאֲנָן “Exit City”) “she does not exit” (יָצְאָה yatse’ah).
Beth‑ezel (“Neighbor Village”) “He will take from you its support.” The pun is not clear. Perhaps the nearness of this town was viewed as protection to Jerusalem.
Maroth (“Bitterville”) will suffer bitterly because God will judge Jerusalem.
Lachish sounds like “harness to the chariot” רָכַשׁ rakish. Lachish was apparently early involved in the apostasy of Israel.
Moresheth‑gath (was this Micah’s hometown?) is admonished to give going away presents. This may be a play on the word “betrothed” and hence the leaving of the bride.
Achzib means “deception.”
Mareshah is enough like Hebrew yoresh “to possess” to allow a pun on it.
Adullam the last of the ten cities is the one to which David fled from Saul. This is enough of a historical connection to remind the people that as David fled so they will flee.
The time element in this lament over the Shephelah is probably Sennacherib’s invasion in 701. Lachish was attacked and defeated as were many other towns in the area.5
3. Through a “woe” oracle, God details their social sins and promises more judgment (2:1‑5).
Reminiscent of his contemporary, Isaiah, Micah condemns those who scheme to rob people of their possessions. Because of this God plans a calamity against “this family.” Because they have robbed people of their inheritance of land, God will remove their portion and there will be no one to “stretch a measuring line for them in the assembly of the Lord,” i.e., no one will represent them in the dividing of land portions.
4. Micah strikes out in defense of his prophetic ministry against the false prophets (cf. Paul’s defense in 2 Corinthians) (2:6‑11).
Verse six is difficult because it is the account of an emotional, heated encounter between Micah and the prophets who opposed his message. The word for “speak” in the verse mean literally “to drip” (נָטַף nataph) and is used almost exclusively of prophetic speech. The false prophets are telling Micah not to rock the boat (Amaziah told Amos a similar thing, Amos 7:10ff). The difference between the translation of NIV and NASB is rather striking. The NASB is more literal, but the sense is better captured by NIV. To get what NIV has, the verb must be made impersonal: “Let them (Micah and others) not prophesy.” The next phrase is equally difficult. It should probably be better understood as the words of the false prophets: “Calamities will not overtake us”6 (2:6).
Israel is questioning Micah’s message. God is surely not angry is He? Micah says that his message will be good to those who do good, but those who treat God as an enemy and God’s people as easy prey can expect to be expelled from the land (2:7‑10).
On the other hand, false prophets who are windy liars and talk about wine and liquor would fit in nicely with these people (2:11).7
5. Yahweh speaks to Israel for the first time in the second person singular (כֻּלָּךְ kulak) in a vignette of hope (2:12‑13).
Yahweh will lead the sheep out of the confining fold into which he has assembled them. He goes before them to lead them. The idea is clearly to lead them to peace or rest or some positive idea.
B. Another indictment is brought against the people of God, a diatribe against false prophets and a marvelous prophesy of hope (Hear!) (3:1—5:15).
1. The indictment is given (3:1‑4).
The phrase Jacob/Israel should refer to the northern kingdom. Yet verses 8‑10 tie it to Zion and Judah, and the rest of the section on hope is really related to Jerusalem. This seems to indicate that Micah, like Hosea and Amos, views the people of Israel/Judah as one people—that the blessing of one comes on the other and vice versa. The indictment refers once again to the mis‑treatment of the poor. But even the poor will not be heard in the day of his cry because he has rejected the Lord.
2. The Lord through Micah gives a diatribe against the false prophets who are forever in the service of self (3:5‑12).
The prophets cry “Peace” if they get paid for it, but declare holy war against those who do not pay them. Because of this sinful practice, God calls for judgment upon them when vision, divination and prophecy will be gone (3:5‑7).
On the other hand Micah is confident and assured that he speaks in the name of Yahweh and that he is filled with the spirit and power of Yahweh, with justice and courage. May God give all his servants this confidence! Because of this confidence of his call, he will continue to declare to Jacob/Israel their sin. These people are building Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with injustice. The leaders, priests and prophets are all hirelings who do not care for the people. They religiously lean on Yahweh and say “Is not Yahweh in our midst? Calamity will not come upon us.”
Because of this dreadful attitude, God promises that Zion (the place where Yahweh dwells) will become a plowed field.8
3 A message of hope is given to Zion for the last days (4:1‑8).
Zion will be turned into a plowed field as God’s judgment, but her latter end will be glorious.
This little section on Zion’s future (verses 1‑3 are found in Isaiah 2) is one of the most beautiful in the entire Bible. It is inscribed on the UN building. The Israelis set it up on a rock at the “good fence,” but it will never come to pass until the prince of peace comes. The components are: Zion will be exalted, peoples will come there, they will seek God and ask Him to teach them His Torah, the law will go forth from Zion, God will act as the Shophet (judge), warfare will cease, great prosperity will be the rule, and people will walk in the name of the Lord. Hallelujah! (4:1‑5).
God’s restoration will involve bringing the remnant back from the distant places and making them into a strong kingdom with the Lord over them (4:6‑8).
4. Before that marvelous restoration takes place, Zion must suffer the ignominy of the exile, but she will triumph over her enemies (4:9—5:1).
The key to this section is the word “Now” which introduces calamity in 4:9,11 and 5:1.
The first unit speaks of Zion being taken to Babylon as captives. Merodach Baladan made overtures to Hezekiah who was roundly criticized by Isaiah. These events caused both Isaiah and Micah to predict a Babylonian captivity for Judah. At the same time, God promises that those nations who have gloated at the troubles of Zion will be “threshed” by Zion on God’s threshing floor (4:9‑13).
Before victory however, there must be shame. 5:1 says “Now” Israel is to muster herself in troops in defense of her besieged city. The king will be treated shamefully.9
5. Ultimate victory for Zion will come through a divinely sent ruler who will come from Bethlehem (5:2‑15).
The king of Zion will be mistreated in the capture of Jerusalem,10 but God will provide a king who will bring permanent victory and peace to her. The ruler to come has an ancient background (cf. Isaiah 9:6).11 God will turn Zion over to a time of captivity until this one will be born (of Israel as the woman in travail and as in Revelation 12) who will shepherd Israel. Verse 3b seems to refer to the joining of the people of Israel as in the two sticks of Ezekiel 37:15ff. This one will bring peace to Israel (the chastisement that produced our peace was upon him [Isaiah 53:5]) (5:2‑5b).
Zion will have victory over their enemies at that time. Assyria probably refers to whoever the enemy will be in that day. The nemesis of Israel/Judah in Micah’s day was Assyria.12Notice the motif of seven/eight for emphasis (5:5b‑6).
The remnant of Jacob will not sit passively among her captors. She will be a mighty force under God’s hand against her enemies (5:7‑9).
The final statement of blessing refers to the complete removal of any vestiges of idolatry from the people of God. There will be no need for armies, fortifications or horses. He will also bring vengeance on those who have not obeyed (5:10‑15).
C. A final round of indictment/lament/hope is given by the Lord (Hear!) (6:1—7:20).
1. Yahweh gives his court case (רִיב riv) against Israel (6:1‑5).
Yahweh returns to His indictment because the message of hope delivered in the middle section might leave people with the impression that it does not matter what they do.
Yahweh addresses the court (nature) and tells them He has a case against His people (6:1‑2).
He now addresses His people in the second/singular to plead with them to listen to Him. He reminds them of all His redemptive work in their behalf and asks them to explain how He has failed them (6:3‑5).
2. Micah confesses that bringing sacrifices to God alone is not what He requires (6:6‑8).
The greatness of God requires more than mere ritual. Sacrifices even of one’s firstborn are inadequate to please the Lord. What Yahweh requires is justice (מִשְׁפָּט mishpat), loving kindness (אַהֲבַת חֶסֶד ‘ahabath ḥesed ) and a humble walk before Him.
3. A final major indictment is handed down against Israel (6:9‑16).
The people are first admonished to pay attention when the Lord speaks. Verses 6:9 and 10a are difficult and have some textual problems. The word “tribe” and “rod” are the same in Hebrew. Perhaps we should read: “Listen to the Rod, who has fixed its time” (that is Yahweh has fixed the time for judgment). For “are there yet” (הָאֶשׁ ha’esh), NIV adds two letters to the Hebrew word to get “shall I forget” (הָאֶשְׁכַח ha’eshkah). I believe they are correct (6:9‑10).
The wickedness of the people in becoming dishonestly rich will result in God’s judgment upon them. They have been following the wicked practices of former kings (Omri and the dynasty of Ahab). T/ herefore God will judge them (6:11‑16).
4. Micah laments the lack of godliness in Israel (7:1‑6).
Micah says that godly people are as scarce as grapes after the harvesters have picked them. Everyone, including the princes and the judges, are dishonest and take unfair advantage of people. However the watchmen (prophets) will proclaim judgment, and punishment will come. It will be a time of internecine strife of the worst sort.
5. The book closes with a final message of hope and expectation of God’s vindication of His people (7:7‑20).
Micah gives a delightful testimony of his willingness to wait for Yahweh because He is his light (7:7‑8).
Micah identifies with the people and says that in spite of the fact that they have sinned against Yahweh, He will plead his case and bring forth justice. Israel will be regathered, the city will be rebuilt and God will judge the sinful world (7:9‑13).
The prophet calls upon Yahweh to shepherd His people, the flock of His possession. The idea of shepherding goes back to the divine shepherd of 5:2. God responds in 7:15 to say that He will show them miracles such as when He brought them from Egypt. Nations will be brought into submission to God.
A final word of praise is given to the God who pardons iniquities, passes over rebellious acts, does not retain anger forever, delights in ḥesed, casts sins into the depths of the sea, gives truth to Jacob and ḥesed to Abraham. What a great God is this!!!
1Bullock, OT Prophetic Books, says that this reference to the Babylonians is irony: Hezekiah is looking to Babylon (Isaiah 39), but Judah will go to Babylon.
2Allen, Minor Prophets in NICOT, p. 269.
3See McComiskey, “Micah,” EBC, 404.
4See the beautiful Atlas of the Bible edited by John Rogerson (New York: Facts on File), 85.
5See my notes on Isaiah 36 for the text from Sennacherib.
6This requires reading יִשַׂג (yasag with sin) instead of יִסַּג (yasag with a samek).
7Speak/spokesman are again from nataph “to drop (words), to prophesy.”
8This situation is cited by the elders in Jer. 26:18 when king Jehoiakim and his ilk would have killed Jeremiah for his negative prophecy.
9The king is called judge (shophet שׁפֵט) perhaps to rhyme with rod (shebet שֵׁבֶט).
10Allen, NICOT, thinks this refers to 701 B.C.
11See also Heater, Matthew 2:6 and Its Old Testament Sources, JETS 26 (1983) 395-397.
12See McComiskey, “Micah,” EBC for a discussion of Assyria as a type. Allen, NICOT, sees 5-6 as a war chant that Micah has turned into a messianic promise. The people thought they could win, but only Messiah will bring victory.